The Big Sleep (1946)

Howard Hawks reteamed Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall for this stylish and seductive adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s labyrinthine private-eye novel.

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Introduction

“Chandler’s The Big Sleep became a series of sneering, needling, loving set pieces between actor and actress. The best example we have of snapping backtalk as a metaphor for sex.”
David Thomson, Have You Seen...? 2008

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall met and fell in love while starring in Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not (1944). Stars and director came together again for this ostensibly darker film – an adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel – in which private detective Phillip Marlowe is hired by wealthy General Sternwood to find out who’s blackmailing his unruly daughter.

With lighting as murky as its characters’ motivations, The Big Sleep is considered part of the cycle of urban thrillers known as film noir, yet the smouldering chemistry and repartee between the offscreen lovers result in something closer to screwball comedy. The plot is famously difficult to follow: the legend goes that Hawks phoned Chandler during the shoot to check who killed the Sternwood chauffeur, and even Chandler didn’t know.

Bogart and Bacall starred in two further films together, Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948), remaining married until Bogart’s death in 1957.

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